Sheila Kohler, Author . Ontario Review $23.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-86538-112-4

Kohler (Cracks ) explores the dark secrets of a South African family in her elegantly written but lugubrious fifth novel. Translator Kate Kempden, these days a Parisian ex-pat, returns to Crossways, her stately childhood home in Johannesburg, following the death of her sister Marion in a car accident that also severely injured Marion's husband, Louis. An esteemed heart surgeon, Louis is also an Afrikaner, a point his elitist mother-in-law ("Over my dead body will you marry a Boer,") had trouble seeing past. Despite his gifts, Louis is scarred by paternal neglect and maternal sexual abuse; he craved the glittering, charmed perfection he imagined in sisters Kate and Marion and relentlessly pursued the latter. They married and had three children, but Louis often beat his wife, while also remorselessly pursuing homosexual dalliances with fellow doctor Serge and mentor Pottie; he even forced himself on a neighbor child. As Kate lingers in her childhood home, and Louis languishes in the hospital, the horrific truths about Louis and Marion's relationship surface as a detective reveals disturbing details about the car crash, resulting in a confrontation that drives Kate to drastic action. Kohler provides a clear-eyed portrait of the abuser's mind and its self-justifying turns, a sympathetic demi-heroine in Kate and a rousing climax, but the relentless violence and dysfunction make for stark reading. Agent, Robin Strauss . (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/11/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 241 pages - 978-1-59051-209-8
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